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What I Wish New Employers Knew About My Social Anxiety

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It was in the middle of a job interview where I was confronted with the tough decision of letting my prospective employer know about my anxiety issues, in order to possibly make arrangements to accommodate my therapy appointments. Cautiously, I asked if they would be discriminatory on any potential employee who might need alternative arrangements. It was sufficiently difficult for me to be direct about my anxiety issues, so I pointed my interviewer to this article, which I had submitted as part of my application portfolio.

He read it slowly and paused.

“You have depression – is that it?”

“No. Actually, that was episodic. While I have mental health struggles, primarily I have social anxiety,” I explained.

He seemed intrigued and proceeded to ask me what that meant, admitting he was less familiar with the condition compared to that of depression. I was pleasantly surprised by his seeming willingness to clarify things he didn’t fully understand. Yet, I was also trembling in my own head, for having put myself in such a spot. Hence, I mumbled the most instinctive thing I could think of: “Um, basically, I’m scared of people. Uh, yup, in short, I’m scared of people.”

His response to my statement left me momentarily stunned, for he said, “But you look so… put-together!”

Shocked for a couple of seconds, I quickly recovered myself and replied with, “It’s just a look, but I am indeed quite trembly inside!” I hoped I had managed to play this off casually enough.

I share this anecdote to illustrate a significant struggle of being someone with high-functioning social anxiety — I often find myself in a dilemma whether to disclose my mental health issues or not.

Disclosing my mental health issues potentially leads to either of two undesirable outcomes — the first would be the encounter outlined above, where I might be seen as so functional that the existence of my anxiety struggles might be doubted. Most often, however, I have no choice but to carry myself as such, because to portray myself at such interviews as per how I genuinely felt would mean all semblance of professionalism flying out the window — I would, quite likely, be immediately written off as unsuitable for employment.

On the other hand, I also fear I might be discriminated against on the assumption I may not be able to cope with the demands of the job. In truth, being a perfectionist, I demand of myself an uncompromising ability to cope with any job I apply for, perhaps more than anyone else. From the moment I decided to apply for the job, right through to after submitting my application, I would have thought countless times over about the requirements of the job and potential anxiety triggers I might face, only applying after I am sure the job requirements may coexist peaceably with my socially anxious self.

With these in mind, here’s what I would like to tell my potential employers: please validate the authenticity of my struggles, no matter how functional or put-together I appear to you. I am trying my best to be financially independent in a field I am competent in and enjoy doing – like everyone else. That’s why I seek employment, but as I am doing so I may face genuine struggles, though they may be invisible to the untrained eye.

Yet, to go the other extreme in assuming my condition renders me incapable of work is not desirable either. In fact, I have come to realize a manageable amount of work I can do independently has been helpful in keeping my anxiety away. Rather, I am someone who possesses the requisite skills, qualifications and a strong interest in the field – which have cumulatively led me to apply for the post – as anyone else would. However, I might require some adjustments to designated work hours for therapy appointments, in order to do my work most efficiently. By granting them to me with an open mind, you help me help you. Therapy helps me manage my anxiety, which in turn allows me to work more productively.

Above all, if you look beyond these labels and take a chance on me, you will find a meticulous, enthusiastic individual who takes pride in her work and works well independently. With that in mind – will you?

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Thinkstock photo via Digital Vision.

Originally published: July 9, 2017
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